(the following text was published at the formula 1 website on May 1st, 2017)
He streaked through the sport like a comet, an other-worldly superstar whose brilliance as a driver was matched by a dazzling intellect and coruscating charisma that illuminated Formula One racing as never before. No one tried harder or pushed himself further, nor did anyone shed so much light on the extremes to which only the greatest drivers go. Intensely introspective and passionate in the extreme, Ayrton Senna endlessly sought to extend his limits, to go faster than himself, a quest that ultimately made him a martyr but did not diminish his mystique.
Ayrton Senna da Silva was born on March 21, 1960, into a wealthy Brazilian family where, with his brother and sister, he enjoyed a privileged upbringing. He never needed to race for money but his deep need for racing began with an infatuation for a miniature go-kart his father gave him when he was four years old. As a boy the highlights of Ayrton’s life were Grand Prix mornings when he awoke trembling with anticipation at the prospect of watching his Formula One heroes in action on television. At 13 he raced a kart for the first time and immediately won. Eight years later he went single-seater racing in Britain, where in three years he won five championships, by which time he had divorced his young wife and forsaken a future in his father’s businesses in favour of pursuing success in Formula One racing, where he made his debut with Toleman in 1984. At Monaco (a race he would win six times), his sensational second to Alain Prost’s McLaren – in torrential rain – was confirmation of the phenomenal talent that would take the sport by storm.
Deciding Toleman’s limited resources were inadequate for his towering ambition, Senna bought out his contract and in 1985 moved to Lotus, where in three seasons he started from pole 16 times (he eventually won a record 65) and won six races. Having reached the limits of Lotus he decided the fastest way forward would be with McLaren, where he went in 1988 and stayed for six seasons, winning 35 races and three world championships.
In 1988, when McLaren-Honda won 15 of the 16 races, Senna beat his team mate Alain Prost eight wins to seven to take his first driving title. Thereafter two of the greatest drivers became protagonists in one of the most infamous feuds. In 1989 Prost took the title by taking Senna out at the Suzuka chicane. In 1990 Senna extracted revenge at Suzuka’s first corner, winning his second championship by taking out Prost’s Ferrari at Suzuka’s first corner. Senna’s third title, in 1991, was straightforward as his domination as a driver became even more pronounced, as did his obsession with becoming better still. Some of his greatest performances came in his final year with McLaren, following which he moved to Williams for the ill-fated 1994 season.
Beyond his driving genius Senna was one of the sport’s most compelling personalities. Though slight in stature he possessed a powerful physical presence, and when he spoke, with his warm brown eyes sparkling and his voice quavering with intensity, his eloquence was spellbinding. Even the most jaded members of the Formula One fraternity were mesmerised by his passionate soliloquies and in his press conferences you could hear a pin drop as he spoke with such hypnotic effect. His command performances were captured by the media and the world at large became aware of Senna’s magnetic appeal.
Everyone marvelled at how he put so much of himself, his very soul, into everything he did, not just his driving but into life itself. Behind the wheel the depth of his commitment was there for all to see and the thrilling spectacle of Senna on an all-out qualifying lap or a relentless charge through the field evoked an uneasy combination of both admiration for his superlative skill and fear for his future.
He drove like a man possessed – some thought by demons. His ruthless ambition provoked condemnation from critics, among them Prost who accused him of caring more about winning than living. When Senna revealed he had discovered religion Prost and others suggested he was a dangerous madman who thought God was his co-pilot. “Senna is a genius,” Martin Brundle said. “I define genius as just the right side of imbalance. He is so highly developed to the point that he’s almost over the edge. It’s a close call.”
Even Senna confessed he occasionally went too far, as was the case in qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, where he became a passenger on a surreal ride into the unknown. Already on pole, he went faster and faster and was eventually over two seconds quicker than Prost in an identical McLaren. “Suddenly, it frightened me,” Ayrton said, “because I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding. I drove back slowly to the pits and did not go out anymore that day.”
He said he was acutely aware of his own mortality and used fear to control the extent of the boundaries he felt compelled to explore. Indeed, he regarded racing as a metaphor for life and he used driving as a means of self-discovery. “For me, this research is fascinating. Every time I push, I find something more, again and again. But there is a contradiction. The same moment that you become the fastest, you are enormously fragile. Because in a split-second, it can be gone. All of it. These two extremes contribute to knowing yourself, deeper and deeper.”
His self-absorption did not preclude deep feelings for humanity and he despaired over the world’s ills. He loved children and gave millions of his personal fortune (estimated at $400 million when he died) to help provide a better future for the underprivileged in Brazil. Early in 1994 he spoke about his own future. “I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury. If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.”
And so it did, on May 1, 1994, in the San Marino Grand Prix, where his race-leading Williams inexplicably speared off the Imola track and hit the concrete wall at Tamburello corner. Millions saw it happen on television, the world mourned his passing and his state funeral in Sao Paulo was attended by many members of the shocked Formula One community. Among the several drivers escorting the coffin was Alain Prost. Among the sad mourners was Frank Williams, who said: “Ayrton was no ordinary person. He was actually a greater man out of the car than in it.”
Text – Gerald Donaldson
It’s Though to be an Alien
(Text I wrote in 2009 for our Citizenship Celebration)
It is an honor for my family to be here this evening to celebrate our American citizenship.
For several years we had this pink card called “Green Card” that stated “Resident Alien”, that made me feel a little like E.T.
Many of you were born here in the United States, so this has always been your country, your land.
But for my family and many others here, each for different reasons, we chose to make this also our country, our land, and we thank you for accepting us.
Our feeling today is probably similar to what your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents felt when they were also accepted in this country.
This diversity made this a great place to be. This country was built on principles of respect, freedom, and honor to God; principles that we embrace as we join this nation.
Frequently people ask us what brought us to the United States, and I have three answers that I use:
Answer number 1: I am a “Sports Refugee”.
You know that everybody loves soccer in Brazil. Every boy plays soccer, but I have always been a terrible soccer player. I had to bring the ball, and accept to be the goalie if I wanted to play. But it got to a point I was being persecuted for my lack of skills, so I had to flee the country, so I ended up in the States, searching for sports asylum.
Answer number 2: It was my job.
The company I worked for in Brazil bought a business in Cleveland and invited me to transfer permanently to that plant. So we came, and two and a half years later they wanted me to go back, but at that time we already had our Green Card, so we chose to stay. That is when I started working here in Wooster.
Answer number 3: It was God’s will.
So many things came together when we were invited to come to the States that we were convinced it was God’s plan for our lives that we should be here. So when people ask if we have plans to go back to Brazil, we always say it is up to God, but He would have a tough time convincing us to go back.
But talking about tough time, I want to go back to the title of this dissertation: It is Tough to be an Alien.
Most foreigners here would have similar stories to mine, most connected with the language or a cultural difference that sometimes puts us in a tough situation.
For example, the first time I came to the US was in 1985 when I worked for Ford Motor Company, and they sent me for some training in Detroit. My English was enough to survive at work, because I was used to the technical words and subjects, since all our meetings at Ford in Brazil were in English. But the first evening I went out to dinner alone I had some trouble:
I went to an Elias Big Boy restaurant and among an overwhelming number of options I ordered some salad and a steak. My brain was at 10,000 rpm when the waitress asked: What kind of dressing? In my mind dressing is the way you dress, the same as clothing, so I looked at her and how she was dressed and I thought “What do you mean? You look fine the way you are dressed, you don’t have to change. I am a married man.” so the first thing out of my mouth is “What are my options?”
After another overwhelming list, I could repeat “Italian”, which I thought was safer than “French” or some of the other names she listed, in case she was going to show up dressed in a costume.
Not satisfied she asks: “How do you want your steak done?” “Come on, you guys run the restaurant, you should know how to do a steak, don’t ask me”. But before those words come out of my mouth, my brain redirects the thought, and I simply say “What do you suggest?”. “Medium”, she says. “Medium it is” I say. If you think “do” is a very generic word. How should I know that it meant “how do you want it cooked?”
Another situation in the same trip was when I was talking to some shop floor employees at Ford in Detroit while eating some snacks, and they asked me if we had Union in Brazil, obviously referring to their beloved UAW, but I understood “onion” because we were eating, so I answered “yes we have it, but I don’t like it”. I don’t remember exactly the next lines of the dialogue, but I am glad I had a chance to clarify my mistake before they would be too mad with me.
When we moved here in 1994 the embarrassing situations only became more frequent.
For example, in Brazil it was not common to receive mail that is not really from someone who knows you, so in the beginning we were reading all the mail that we were receiving: “Important”, “Open Now”, “Dated Material”, “Immediate Reply Required”, etc, only to waste time and find out most of it was junk mail. Then someone gave us a precious clue: “If the stamp says Bulk Rate, it can’t be important”.
When we started attending Grace Church we heard one of the pastors say they were collecting glasses for a missionary trip to Honduras. A few days later we saw my wife washing an empty jelly jar and she said it was for Honduras. The boys and I started laughing as we explained that he meant eye glasses, not any type of glass.
But the best was when we prepared our first income tax report. Due to the fact we moved in the middle of 1994 our taxes were more complicated because we made money in Brazil and here during that year, so my company hired a consultant from Price Waterhouse to help with the forms. This lady came and asked me for my receipts, W2, and all that stuff, so she could fill out the forms.
Since we didn’t have time to complete everything before April 15th, she did a rough calculation and we paid by estimate. A few days later she came back with the forms and said “Now all you have to do is sign and file”. I found it a little strange I had to sign before putting it in my file, but I thought, maybe if I die it would be important the forms were signed, so I did it, sure that she had already sent a copy of them to the IRS. Weeks later I got a letter from the IRS stating they had received my payment by estimate, but never got my forms. I was mad, and I told our Human Resources manager that Price Waterhouse had done something wrong because they never sent my forms. He told me I had to send them, but I replied with assertiveness: “no, the lady told me I just had to sign and file” as I opened my file cabinet drawer to show him where I filed the forms. Then he explained to me that “file” means “mail it to the IRS”.
Come on, I already knew two meanings of the word file: file in a cabinet, and file metal or my nails. Why don’t they say “mail it” if that is what they mean? “Now I understand the sign and file it”. So I wrote a letter to the IRS explaining the situation, like I just told you, attached the forms and mailed to them. That was probably the only day they laughed at the IRS.
These are just a few examples to prove that it is tough to be an alien.
But, after all these years, we are thankful to our Lord that directed us here. We are just as convinced today as we were in 1994 that He wants us here. And we will continue to pay attention to His voice to know what He wants from us next.
An Overview of the Bible History
(Slides prepared in 2008 for an Adult Bible Fellowship Study at Grace Church)